Teaching your kids about God day by day as you walk in the Way

Have you ever felt like you need to be having Bible lessons and even Bible school for your children to be a “good” Christian parent? I have. Shouldn’t my teaching at home look like Sunday school? Honestly, I feel the weight of this often. I can quickly get in the habit of beating myself up with questions like these and feeling that I am not doing enough. In fact, the shelter-in-place due to coronavirus has increased that feeling. But I’m constantly reminded of a different message about teaching God to my children when I read the Scriptures.

Listen to God’s wisdom in parenting about God’s commandments from the book of Deuteronomy:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deut 6:7

These teaching opportunities are not usually lessons in theology, they are simply aspects of our daily routine. Praying when we go to bed. Thanking God for a new day. These are lessons in daily life, which we will discuss shortly. If we want to think of teaching our children about God in terms of school, we should be thinking more of an apprenticeship education. And one day, when they are of an age where they can make decisions for themselves, we can pray that they will choose to live in like manner…not following us, but following the Great Teacher himself, Jesus. This is exactly how Jesus taught his apprentices, the disciples who would later become Apostles. He lived the example but He explained what He was doing to them along the way and what it meant. He didn’t leave them to interpret it for themselves. In fact, He sent a helper, the Holy Spirit, to help them understand after He was gone.

This instruction about teaching children is actually immediately after the commandment for US to be faithful to God. Here are verses 5 & 6 just before:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. Deut 6:5-6

We have to love God and desire to commit ourselves to Him from the heart! We cannot teach this without doing so ourselves. Jesus later tells us that this is the greatest commandment! And the second (which is like the first) is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:34-40).

Listen to the blessing that is promised:

“They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them.
Jeremiah 32:38-39

This verse is actually speaking about the New Covenant that Jesus would bring and how it will benefit future generations of children, but do you see the connection? If we are God’s people and have one heart and one way and fear God, then teach it to our children, we give them “good” things!

Now, I’d be first to say how important knowing and understanding the Bible is to our faith. I was largely unaware of God’s commandments and walking blindly despite proclaiming to be a Christian for many years. Understanding the Scriptures is essential to know the truth, because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). We must recognize false teaching and grow in our understanding to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

But we shouldn’t confuse knowing about God with teaching our children to know God. We are to grow in the grace AND knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We need both. We have to move from knowing about love, to applying love in our lives ourselves, and we need to teach our children how to apply it also.

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Coming back to the idea of an apprenticeship, leading by example is not enough. A master gives specific instruction to his apprentice about the right way to do the job and provides opportunities for practice under his supervision. It is “on the job” training. We don’t just set the example and leave them to figure it out on their own when they are older. We teach them the right way, always explaining why; then we give them opportunities to try and fail.

Lastly, this is not a job that can be left to anyone else. They will not receive an apprentice style teaching from an hour on Sunday, or even from a few hours of “class” in your home. In fact, the specific command from God is to fathers as the head of the household. The father is accountable for raising them in the ways of the Lord. He obviously doesn’t do this alone, but the responsibility is on his shoulders. While some may be uncomfortable with the idea of submitting to their husband as the head of the household, let’s take a moment to understand the weight that they carry. They are the ones who answer to God about raising their children. That’s a big responsibility and we should do everything we can to support and help them in that. Obviously, that option is not available to everyone for any number of circumstances, but where there is a Christian father, this responsibility is his.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4

Below are some verses that we try to use to guide us in certain daily activities. I try to be more concerned with whether I am giving Godly teaching in how we live our daily lives than if I successfully pull off a “kids Bible study class”, though they can be fun too. As you read these verses, I think you will hear a similar message: instill God’s principles in their hearts, how to love God and follow His commands and wisdom. I’m on a personal mission to match verses to each of the attributes we seek to instill in our children and to the things we do in our life.

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Proverbs 2:6-8

God’s wisdom is the only wisdom that will truly lead us where we desire to go if Heaven is our goal.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deut 6:7

We walk and talk about God. I can’t tell you how much more rich my “teaching” with my young boys is when going on a walk and talking about all that God has made around us. I always try to view that time as “walking by the way”, though that is talking about much more than a walk! My son knows that God created the earth and that only God has power over weather in the world that He created. I have come to love my time outside so much because I’m experiencing God’s creation, not man’s.

This morning he (the 3 year old) asked me if I could make it rain so we could play with water guns. I couldn’t help but smile. My question in response was simple…”honey, can I control the rain?” and his answer was simple too…”no, only God can”. His most constant prayer for the last 3 months has been asking God to send a big snow again, so he can go sledding. He is bringing his request to the right place! And I’ve smiled again when I see a random big snow this time of year because when it comes, he thanks God. But it’s not because we had a lesson on creation, it’s from walking and talking about God.

“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”
Ephesians 5:19

We sing songs, not as part of a lesson, but as part of our praise to God. We talk about the messages in the songs. We sing songs that align with what we are doing. When we go for a walk at night, we bring a lantern and sing “This little light of mine”. We listen to bible verses sung to a melody and other God songs, because we love to think about Him and praise Him. It also helps us remember God’s word.

“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:20

We talk about our thankfulness. I have my husband to thank for helping develop this habit. Whether in our prayers or discussions about the blessings we have, we try to make thankfulness the main focus of most of our day. Gratitude is foundational to contentment and it is a very easily understood topic for children.

Jesus says, “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.”
Matthew 6:9-13 NLT

We pray aloud together. We don’t pray to God in memorization, however. Not even the Lord’s prayer from above, though I know the King James Version by heart as I’m sure many of you do also. I actually used a different translation intentionally. Do you notice that you skip over it when you recognize the verse(s)? I certainly find myself doing that.

If we desire our children to talk to God from their own voice as adults, I believe we should teach them that way from the beginning. Just before Jesus gives the example of a model prayer, Jesus actually warns of mindless memorization. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7 NLT). We memorize plenty of verses and songs to help us remember, but we speak to God in our own words during prayers and only recite something from memorization if it is what we want to express.

Yes, that often means my son prays about a big snow to come. Sometimes it means he repeats what he hears…as his prayers before meals sound quite similar to his dad’s. And sometimes, you hear the amazing ability of the heart of a child to focus in on the most important things. More than once, we have heard our son pray about someone he heard in the announcements at services and it can bring a parent to tears.

We pray that God’s will be done. I think this is an extremely difficult thing for a child to understand as I only have just begun to feel like I see the bigness of that statement. However, we pray that for ourselves to accept and only secondarily for the benefit of our children as they begin to understand.

We pray before meals.

We try to pray out loud for forgiveness, especially when we have wronged each other. A child should know that we can do wrong against them too and they deserve to hear us ask for forgiveness.

We pray for God to protect us from Satan. So many of the awful things that happen have the evil one behind them. We need to expose his works.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

We pray for help in expressing forgiveness to each other. I’m going to be honest…this one is most often about my marriage. It seems that the ones we love are the ones that we hold on to resentment the most. No matter what I feel like my spouse needs to work on, I have tons of areas that I need to forgive and ask forgiveness. More often than not, I am kicking myself because I’m discussing a problem with my husband in front of my kids. Even more so, then, I need to express my forgiveness in front of them and truly internalize forgiveness.

We pray for others. I recently bought a prayer board for our kitchen to help us remember those who we need to pray for, whether for health or circumstances like this virus. We often forget otherwise all those on our “list”.

We pray when we see something awful happen, like an accident on the side of the road or an ambulance pull up at a home.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

I try to bring my worries and struggles to God through prayer and study of His word. I couldn’t bring myself to write that last sentence without the term “I try”. I have a dangerous temper. Many in my family have experienced it far more than I’d like. I worry so often. I’ve worked hard to turn to Scripture and prayer when I’m angry, upset or worried. Instead of going somewhere else in the house, sometimes I will stay in the room with the kids when I turn to the Bible to read. My son will inevitably ask me what I am doing and I explain that when I’m upset, it helps me to read God’s word and give the struggles to God. This has helped me immensely and maybe it will help him one day too.

“Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.” Psalm 119:97-98

We try to talk about and read the Bible regularly because we want to. In the same way that I feel guilty when I haven’t picked up my Bible to read lately, my guilt begins to skyrocket when I don’t feel like we have gotten out the children’s Bible lately. So, I will get back in the habit of offering to read any Bible story he picks after breakfast or naps (the usual time that works for us). Sometimes, even when I’m great about suggesting it, we only read a little or he says no. I think they should be free to do that. I certainly have those days. But I watch in amazement, when on several occasions one or two stories become 30. I’m reminded that we will learn the most from the Scriptures when we want to read them…when we love God’s word. As an aside, Psalm 119 is an entire chapter all about God’s word. Reading that chapter helps remind me of what the Scriptures are supposed to be for me.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

I love the way Jesus continually used parables to help explain topics. The simplest form of parable is apparently technically called a similitude. I used an example parable of scattering seeds above because that is exactly what we are doing with our children. God will grant the increase (1 Cor 3:6-7). Our children will make their own choices, but we plant the seeds.

In order to internalize this idea for myself, I have started a new tradition in our home. I often find myself approaching faith with a checklist mentality. Did I read my Bible today? check (or often not checked). Did I pray before bed? check. In parenting, this has resulted in…Did I teach 2 kids Bible lessons this week? That box almost never got checked. And I got discouraged. So, now we have different jars for certain ideals. Right now we only have two jars: 1) teaching the kids about the Bible and 2) kindness because I have 2 boys and sibling life needs lots of kindness. When we have a conversation about the Bible or a “lesson”, I’ll drop a wool acorn in the learning jar. We talk about how seeds grow into trees and that when we learn something about God, it will grow. But the jar is really for me, remember. Instead of counting checkboxes, I look at a jar that has more and more seeds that will grow over time, if I just keep planting. `

One of the other ways we can apply the idea of parables is to look for Bible topics that relate to their situations, just like parables do. My son continually talks about bad guys right now. Today, he expressed that bad guys need to be killed while reading “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and the scary “thing” on Mars. Are you sensing a theme here?! Swords and bad guys… We discussed that even bad guys can change and we should pray that they change their ways and follow God. In a small way, I hope that the discussion helps him begin to understand that people aren’t always bad, they can choose differently and that we should pray for our enemies.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

We talk about Satan. My son loves sword fights, so he put on the armor of God and fought Satan (me). I would tell him lies and he would proclaim the truth in response, then for the defeating blow, he recites a Scripture he knows or tells about something the Bible teaches us. He asks to fight Satan all the time now. We put on his armor each time to help him remember.

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” Ephesians 1:3-7 NLT

The Bible is a true story that explains God’s plan for our redemption from before the foundation of the world. He executed that plan over thousands of years and it was completed in the New Covenant with Jesus. I have other blogs on this same topic, but this is crucial to our understanding of the Bible and will be crucial to our children when they choose their path. We need to help them see the big picture of God’s plan by connecting the stories. I just wrote a blog about connecting the Passover with the Lord’s Supper…that was inspired by a simple “class” for children about the two. We need to show them the storyline of the Bible.

In our family, that often means saying things like, the letter from the Apostle Paul to Rome, instead of the book of Romans. It means explaining that God knew He would send Jesus before He even made the world, because He knew that we would sin and He wanted to have us with Him again. I was taught a simple summary of the Bible to teach to children and I think it’s helpful for adults too. The Bible story is essentially: Jesus is coming, Jesus is here, and Jesus is coming again.

Which brings me to the foundation of all of the daily teaching. Jesus revealed the mystery of God’s plan to us and the Holy Spirit that followed after Him (Col 1:27).

“Jesus said to him,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

It is not an understatement to say that Jesus is at the center of being a Christian (Christ follower). He is our Savior (Luke 2:11), the cornerstone of our faith (Acts 4:11), the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), the mediator of the New Covenant (Heb 9:15) and God has given Him all authority (Matt 28:18). And those are only a few. Remember, in our apprentice analogy, Jesus is the Great Teacher.

We need to tie in Jesus to our teaching of pretty much everything. The Jesus storybook Bible says, “every story whispers His name”. When we struggle with sin, we discuss how Jesus died to make us clean from sin. When we discuss the history of the Bible, we need to learn the messianic prophecies they contain and point them out to our children. Whether through a resource or your own personal study, this is an essential message to understand ourselves and pass on to them: that the whole Bible is about Jesus.

These principles are received much more organically within a discussion about something they want to talk about than they are in a generalized story. I’ve had several attempts at “class” that have epically failed. My son was just not in a mindset to be interested. But in reading all those verses, it just doesnt really sound like class anyway, does it? It sounds like explaining the way we are to be living as Christians and why. As we study how to answer that for ourselves, we develop the ability to teach it to our children along the way.

I’ll end with saying that we fall short ALL THE TIME! I don’t claim to be an expert at this by any means…my oldest child is 3. I try to focus on a day by day basis, but not everyday is as filled as I would like. We simply try to walk in God’s ways and explain it to our children. But isn’t that the greatest lesson of all in all of this? That we won’t get it right all the time? The best we can do is to lean on the one who can perfect us and who has all the answers, Jesus.

Remember my jar of acorns for teaching the kids? I have one for me too. Because I am still learning. We are always learning if we are diligently seeking Him. Parenting is a monumental undertaking. We may not be as prepared or as knowledgable as we would like to be when we start or as we continue, but we can always keep growing. We can plant more and more seeds right alongside our children.

I also know that you all have examples like this too and I would love to hear them. That is part of how we grow, to hear the example of others. Many on my list were things I witnessed from other parents. Please tell me a verse that guides you in your life and you are trying to teach to your children, then tell me how it comes up in your daily life.

I believe all Christians should use children’s resources to help them learn the Bible. They summarize the important parts and aren’t as long. Along those lines, I love the Complete Illustrated Children’s Bible to read to children and also in my own studies! It is extremely accurate and doesn’t skip over difficult topics like some Children’s Bibles. It actually has summaries of the New Testament letters also. Plus, children’s books like this one are typically chronological, which is very helpful to understand the timeline of the Bible story. Learn all the kids songs and enjoy the simpler storyline right along with your kids. It will help you in your own studies more than you know.

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